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Lawsuit alleges universities connected to bribery and cheating scandal failed to give honest applicants a fair review


A poster containing a photo of William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, is displayed during a news conference Tuesday in Boston, where indictments in a college admissions bribery scandal were announced. (Steven Senne/AP) By Nick Anderson Nick Anderson Reporter covering higher education, national education policy and the global education market Email Bio Follow March 14 at 3:40 PM A class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that students denied admission to several prominent universities in recent years were deprived of a fair review because the schools failed to maintain adequate safeguards to prevent fraud that came to light this week in a cheating and bribery scandal.

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The complaint, filed in federal court in Northern California, names two Stanford University students as plaintiffs acting on behalf of themselves and others in similar situations who applied to competitive schools. It is part of what could become a wave of litigation sparked by a federal investigation into a scheme to help children of wealthy parents secure entry to prestigious schools through cheating on admissions tests and bribery of athletic coaches. Fifty people, including numerous parents, were charged Tuesday in the scheme.

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[ Universities race to quell outrage over bribery and cheating scandal in admissions ]

Stanford students Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods allege in their suit that the universities that were duped through the scheme, including their school, were negligent in failing to take adequate steps to guarantee “the sanctity of the college admissions process.” Olsen applied in 2017 to Yale University and Woods to the University of Southern California, according to the suit. The suit said neither was aware when they applied that admission to those schools was “an unfair, rigged process” in which parents could “buy” slots for their children

Olsen and Woods also alleged that the Stanford degrees they are pursuing had been devalued by the scandal

Neither Olsen nor Woods responded immediately to email requests for comment. The Stanford Daily reported Thursday that Olsen planned to withdraw from the lawsuit. The attorney who represented her, John Medler, told the student news outlet that other plaintiffs would be added in an amended complaint and that Olsen’s name would be dropped

Medler did not immediately respond to an email from The Washington Post seeking comment

Among defendants in the suit are William “Rick” Singer — a California man authorities say was the mastermind of the conspiracy — as well as Stanford, University of Southern California, Yale, University of California at Los Angeles, University of San Diego, University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest and Georgetown universities

Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy charges for racketeering and other crimes in federal court in Boston

[ From ‘master coach’ to a bribery probe: A college consultant who went off the rails ]

Federal investigators have not accused the universities of wrongdoing. But several athletic coaches formerly employed by the schools were charged with taking bribes in exchange for designating applicants as athletic recruits, even though they were not athletically qualified

Asked about the lawsuit, UT-Austin spokesman J.B. Bird said Thursday in a statement: “Like many students and families across the country, we are also outraged that parents, outside actors and university employees may have committed fraud surrounding admissions at universities. The University of Texas has a thorough, holistic admissions process. The actions alleged by federal prosecutors against one UT employee were not in line with that policy and may have been criminal. They do not reflect our admissions process.”

Stanford and U-San Diego said the suit is “under review.” USC said it has heard about the lawsuit but has not been served

Georgetown said: “While we do not comment on pending litigation, Georgetown University takes the integrity of our admissions process seriously and is committed to a fair, holistic process whereby each application is carefully reviewed. We review all applicants without consideration of a family’s financial consideration or ability to pay.”

Other schools named in the suit did not immediately respond to a request for comment

This article has been updated.